The Douglas Dispatch proclaimed the marriage of William R. Cowan
to Cordelia C. Robertson on December 14, 1943 as the unification
of two states, bringing together two longtime Arizona and New
Mexico ranching families.
Others perceived it differently. Cordys family sat on one side
of the church, Bills was on the other, Cordy says, bawling their
eyes out because Bill was marrying a sheep herders daughter.
We had run sheep and goats during a drought, but cattle were our
mainstay. It didnt take Bill long to convince Cordy to be a
full-time cowboy, although Cordy teases that it took 35 years
to make Bill Cowan a New Mexican.
Bills family moved to Arizona from Canada in the late 1800s.
Pressed for more details, Bill admits, Ive never been much on
genealogy. Cordy is quick to add unless its horses or cattle
youre talking about. His father, Ralph Cowan, served 17 years
in the Arizona legislature while Bill handled the responsibilities
of the familys ranch.
Ben Robertson showed up in the New Mexico Territory sometime between
1896 and 1898, driving a herd of horses from Texas. Finding the
Bootheel pleasant, Ben chose to stay, got a job as cowboy for
the Diamond As Gray Ranch, and established a homestead in Cloverdale.
He became foreman of the Gray, a position he held into the early
30s. I can still remember my dad mounting his horse in late
evening to meet one of the other Gray cowboys, Cordy recalls.
It was Arizona the young couple first called home and where they
sought to build a future for their family. It wasnt until the
1970s they finally made the move to Cloverdale, N.M.
Situated in the Bootheel of New Mexico, the Cloverdale Ranch had
been managed by Cordys family since the early 1900s. In 1958,
following the death of her husband, Cordys mother, Marguerite,
split the family ranch among her three surviving children. The
next 40 years found Cordy and Bill hauling horses, cattle and
equipment between two states.
In the Bootheel of New Mexico where the gently rolling grasslands
skirt forested mountains peppered with junipers and oaks, Cloverdale
still looks as it must have to the optimistic frontier settlers
arriving around the turn of the century.
Forty-two miles south of Animas, the Cloverdale Ranch borders
Mexico to the south, the Gray Ranch to the east and lies within
a half mile of the Arizona border to the west. Buying groceries
in Douglas, Ariz. requires a tortuous round trip of 250 miles.
Since the Cowans are known for their hospitality, agency employees
frequently find themselves staying for a bite of lunch. One
border patrol agent addresses Cordy as Gammy when he sees her
in one of her frequent trips to Lordsburg, N.M. Its obvious hes
shared a meal or two at her home. Cordy smiles at his endearing
reference, obviously pleased. One of their neighbors jokingly
refers to her friends hospitality as Cordys Cafe. They even
have take-out food, she adds as a brown bag is pressed into her
hands. No charge!
Theres never a shortage of guests at the Cowan home, even in
such a remote area. My grandmothers door was always open, Cordy
says. Ive heard tell there was always some dust leaving as some
was coming. Thats how Id like to be remembered.
As high-spirited hummingbirds flit around several feeders strategically
placed in windows so spectators can watch, Cordy identifies the
many varieties. She admits her expertise came from a university
professor who dropped by requesting to study the small birds
summer terrain. Never known to turn away a stranger, the Cowans
Hummingbirds are not the only species of wildlife that receive
special attention. During droughts, and in winter, its not uncommon
to find 200 head of deer eating alongside the carefully tended
herd of Brahman and F1 cattle. When supplemental feed and hay
is put out for the livestock, its a given that wildlife will
A doe, affectionately called Grandma, is a standard part of
the ranch tour. Cordy always enjoys demonstrating the proper way
to feed her, and newcomers are encouraged to give it a try. Many
a photo has been snapped as someone places an apple in his mouth,
bends over and stretches forth, as Grandma accepts the small mouth
to mouth offering.
Their ranch is a reflection of the Cowans foresight and progressive
techniques. The livestock are well cared for, wildlife abounds
in every crook and cranny, and its obvious to visitors and neighbors
alike the Cloverdale is well-managed. The Cowans whole life has
been dedicated to breeding the best horses and cattle, designing
the best set of corrals and finding the best ways to improve their
ranches. A neighbor once complimented Bill by saying even his
fences are a work of art. Bills peers describe him as a real
cowmans cowman. He doesnt just talk the talk, he walks the walk.
Their three daughters were active in horse and cattle shows, as
well as rodeo sports during their teen years. While Cordy bred
mares, fed dogied calves, helped deliver puppies, kittens and
calves, bandaged scrapes and bruises and edited Bills speeches,
she somehow found time to haul the girls to their many activities.
The Cowans are always quick to point out their childrens many
accomplishments. The oldest, Ruth Evelyn, an international flight
attendant for Northwest Airlines, partially purchased and manages
the family ranches in Arizona. Recognized as a conservationist
in her own right, and following a family tradition, she was recently
awarded the 1999 Whitewater Draw Conservation Districts award
for Cooperator of the Year.
The middle daughter, Marguerite, lives in Animas where she serves
as her dad and moms right hand, and helps with many of the
daily chores. Marguerite gained invaluable knowledge while working
on ranches in Brazil and Venezuela. Back surgery has slowed her
down just a little, but she still delivers mail to Animas Valley
residents, and assists her many elderly friends in Douglas, Ariz.
Daughter Flossie, a former state police officer, made a career
change a few years back, and is now an accomplished chef at the
Prairie Star in Albuquerque, N.M. She also operates a catering
Modest to extremes, neither Bill nor Cordy likes to brag about
past accomplishments. Although their many trophies are exhibited
in a case, they are discretely kept in a hall where casual company
seldom visits. Bowls, buckles and trophies represent such outstanding
achievements as Arizonas American Quarter Horse Associations
Champion MareMiss Taffy Kid; American Brahman Breeders Associations
award for Outstanding Breeders and Promoters for the Western United
States; Houston Livestock Shows award for both International
Grand Champion Brahman Heifer and CowCRC Cloverdale 86; and
the Grand Champion Appaloosa Stud award for a horse named Little
Pilot. The movie industry fancied Little Pilot so much they mounted
John Wayne on him for the movie El Dorado.
Two awards signify recent achievements. One was presented by a
local group, the Hidalgo County Soil and Water Conservation District,
for Outstanding Conservationist of the Year, 1999. The other comes
from the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts for
being Region IIIs Conservation Rancher of the Year.
The Cowans have always kept their eyes focused on the future.
Knowing water is the lifeblood for both cattle and wildlife that
inhabit the fragile deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, Bill set
out to improve his permanent waterings and preserve his rangeland
long before they became publicly declared conservation practices.
Today, the ranch has 20 miles of pipeline and many troughs that
benefit a variety of life, both domestic and wild. The rangeland
also preserves a diversity of plants and grasses. Nothing can
make Bill Cowan fluff up more than the mention of welfare ranchers.
He doesnt understand how any educated person could coin such
a term, and succeed in getting it to stick.
Not only have the Cowans been involved in activities that promote
their business, both have helped their communities and states.
Bill served on the Border Commission under two governors, and
was instrumental in starting the Border Fence Project. For 30
years, three as president, Cordy served on the Cochise County
Foundation Board. When time came to retire from the board, it
took her two years to convince them to accept her resignation.
Although many opportunities have come knocking on Bills door
throughout his 75 years, his love for the land, his animals and
the desire to ranch for a living have always taken first place.
Its obvious hes put in many hard days and long nights realizing
Acknowledging that some call her the dragon lady, Cordy takes
no guff from the visitor who neglects to ask permission before
looking around the spread, or surreptitious hunters seeking to
kill a deer on the sly.
But to those who knock on their door, seek their company, and
ask permission, the Cowans are just going about their business,
as many unassuming ranchers do, making their living, helping their
neighbors, leaving a lasting legacy and quietly conserving nature.
Judy Keeler and her family ranch in the Bootheel of New Mexico,
close to the Cowans.